Photo of Dr Robert Knox

Dr Robert Knox

Senior Lecturer Law


Marxist and Critical Legal Theory

The Marxist tradition provides the theoretical and methodological core of Robert’s research. Particularly important in this respect is the commodity-form theory approach first advanced by the Bolshevik jurist Evgeny Pashukanis. Alongside the Marxist tradition, Robert draws on other legal theoretical traditions, including Critical Legal Studies, Critical Race Theory and Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). Robert’s work both deploys these traditions to examine and analyse particular legal regimes and moments and intervenes directly the theoretical debates that characterise these traditions.

To this end, Robert has written a number of texts charting the place of the Marxist tradition within legal theory and international legal theory (see, for example, chapters in the Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law and the SAGE Handbook of Marxism), and mapped out the role of Marxism within other theoretical traditions (a forthcoming chapter in the TWAIL Handbook). At the same time, his work examines the history and effects of different theoretical concepts within international legal theory (see ‘Hegemony’ in the Concepts for International Law and ‘Looking Eastwards’ in Revolutions in International Law) and has demonstrated the ways in which Marxist theory can illuminate particular areas of law (see ‘A Marxist Approach to RMT v United Kingdom’ in Research Methods for International Human Rights Law: Beyond the Traditional Paradigm and ‘Capitalism, Race and the Shaping of International Institutions’ forthcoming in Ways of Seeing in International Organisations).

Imperialism, Colonialism and Race

A central thread of Robert’s research programme is to map out law’s – and in particular international law’s – relationship to racism, imperialism and colonialism. This was the focus of his PhD research and since then it has grown into a multifaceted research agenda. His research draws on his theoretical positions to offer a materialist account of this relationship, examining how law’s enmeshment in the social relations of capitalism and imperialism produce particular forms of the patterns of racialisation. Robert’s research argues that any materialist account of law must put issues of race and racialisation at their centre and – at the same time – argues that we cannot understand race and racism without grounding them in wider social relations.

Robert’s researched these issues across a number of different areas and in a number of different registers. He has discussed these at a more general, popular level, giving a number of talks on the issue as well as publishing shorter, more accessible interventions (see, for example his piece ‘Subject Positions’ in Third World Approaches to International Law Review and his intervention on the Sewell Report). He has addressed these issues in a sustained theoretical manner (see ‘Valuing Race: Stretched Marxism and the Logic of Imperialism’ in the London Review of International Law) as well as dealing with concrete historical manifestations these issues (see ‘Haiti at the League of Nations: Racialisation, Accumulation and Representation’ in the Melbourne Journal of International Law) and how they play out in particular areas (see ‘Civilizing Interventions: Race, War and International Law’ in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs).

Ultimately, the themes of racialisation and imperialism suffuse much of Robert’s broader work in international law (see ‘Imperialism, Hypocrisy and the Politics of International Law’ forthcoming in Third World Approaches to International Law Review).

Law and Political Economy

A core aspect of Robert’s research is to understand the close interconnection between law and political economy. Here Robert is interested in understanding how law both shapes and is shaped by specific political-economic configurations. One important strand of this work has been to examine law’s role in mediating the set of political-economic transformations dubbed ‘neoliberalism’. Here, Robert’s research has been multi-scalar in approach embracing the international, the regional, the transnational and national legal arenas. A core insight of his research is on the close link between neoliberalism and juridification, with the latter serving to cement and isolate ‘the economy’ from popular control and thus embed a neoliberal model.

Robert has traced this relationship across a number of different areas. Particularly important in this respect has been his work on labour law (‘Law and the Constitution of Neoliberal Subjectivity: The Case of Organised Labour’ in Neoliberal Legality). He has also paid close attention to have neoliberal legal regimes have been articulated at the ‘constitutional’ level, including a focus on changes at the level of local government (‘Neoliberalism, Labour Law, and New Labour's Turn to Constitutionalism’ in New Labour’s Constitution: 20 Years On). His work has also paid keen attention to these transformations at the international level, with a particular focus on international financial institutions (‘Hegemony’ in Concepts for International Law). Robert has also written a number of shorter, political pieces attempting to chart out the general role of law in neoliberalism (‘Against Law-Sterity’ in Salvage and ‘Legalising the Violence of Austerity’ in The Violence of Austerity) and the ideological and rhetorical function of law in neoliberal politics (‘The Right Against the Rule of Law’ in Salvage).

Alongside these broader analyses of neoliberalism, Robert’s research has focused on more specific conjunctural issues, particularly – recently – on the role of law in shaping the political-economic response to the Covid 19 crisis (‘International Law of State Responsibility and COVID-19: An Ideology Critique’ in the Australian Yearbook of International Law).